I was going to link you to an article in the current Vanity Faire about audiobooks and then recommend that you pick up any of the Jeeves/Wooster books by Wodehouse because he is awesome and you can see his influence throughout a significant amount of modern literature.
But I was denied. Please note what is NOT a hyperlink:
Point of curiosity: what's your opinion of audiobooks?
Just when you thought the nerdy fun couldn’t get any more nerdy or fun...you’d be wrong. Assassination Vacation (the end of our trip down Vowell lane) focuses her obsession and wit on the first three American Presidents to be assassinated: Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley.
Once again she travels around the country looking at graves, childhood homesteads, jail cells, and historical markers. She drags friends, colleagues, and her infinitely patient sister and nephew along with her - the bonus of this for us is that we get their opinions as well as hers, which is always colorful and amusing.
Ok, so you’re thinking “everyone knows that Lincoln was shot by Boothe at the theatre” and “wasn’t Garfield only in office for a minute and a half?” and “McKinley? Really? WHY DO WE CARE?” And you’d be mainly right. What makes it all so interesting is that Vowell doesn’t just cover the event itself - she delves into the political climate surrounding it and the lives of both assassinator and assassinated. For example: the Republican party started to become the party we know today around the time of Garfield’s candidacy - much tantrum throwing and manipulation and backfiring of plans.
We learn the Lincoln’s poor son (Robert) is in the vicinity for each assassination, even though he’s not involved with any of them...he’s just a good luck charm for the man with the gun. We learn about the odd life and times of Charles Guiteau (Garfield’s assassin) and are taken on a tangent that is too good for me to spoil here. Furthermore - there are interesting tidbits about how Roosevelt actually made it into power and laws that were enacted as reactions to the assassinations that are still in effect today.
All of this fairly text-book like information is delivered in Vowell’s distinct voice. Wry humor and insight coupled with vigorous research and a willingness to divulge her own character quirks make every character (satellite or otherwise) seem more real to even the most disengaged reader. She also draws very nice parallels between what happened then and what was happening at the time of writing (03-04) - searing commentary cloaked in historical anecdotes. It’s downright delightful.
Of course, it’s Sarah Vowell, could it be anything other than delightful? I’m actually a little sad I’m at the end of her published works. (Ok, technically there’s one more, but my library doesn’t have it. I’ll keep my eye out at the bookstores, though. Not to worry.)
And I’ll leave you with her interview with Jon Stewart when this book released. It’ll give you a nice little taste of what’s in store.
That’s right, folks, the rut continues. But who can blame me? Take The Cannoli is every bit as masterful as the other works I’ve read - essays full of insight and humor (even the dark ones have that sardonic twist that so many writers aspire to and few actually achieve.)
The theme for this book is “Sarah Vowell: This Is Your Life!” It’s comprised of essays that have appeared in other places first, This American Life being chief among those other places. We learn about her father’s gun habit and how she held her first (and only) gun at the tender age of six. (I feel the need to add here that this is the one of many places in her books where I say “Me, too!” to either her experience or opinion. It’s yet another reason we should be BFF’s….Sarah, are you reading this? BFF’s. For real.)
Reading these essays feels like sitting at the table with an old friend shooting the breeze over coffee at 3am: confessions, confidences, and the hard stories that shape who you’ve become spill out, ready to be told and peppered with insight and humor. You walk away feeling like a better person - more enlightened and compassionate.
Ok - that is mostly referring to her essay “What I See When I Look at the Face on the Twenty-Dollar Bill” where she and her sister go on what might be the most depressing road-trip ever: a Heritage Tour of the Trail of Tears. Vowell is part Cherokee, so this bit of history is made that much more real. As much as she makes me laugh - this essay moved me to tears. Not “I need a box of tissues” tears, but the more subtle, touching “aw you’re crying!” tears. Because it’s personal to her, it’s personal to us.
But don’t worry - it’s not all White Guilt and nerdery. She also stays in the most infamous hotel in New York (and we all need a shower,) makes mix-tapes, goes to Disneyland, shares her love of the Godfather, and gets a goth makeover. (That last one particularly speaks to me - I showed up to a get-together once with my hair streaked black and in dreadlocks and with smokey eye makeup only to be told that no matter what I do I’m always a little “crunchy.” Normally I embrace it, but I was going for mysterious. Sigh.)
Anyway - all of this is to say that even when it’s all I’m reading, Sarah Vowell doesn’t get old. Part of me wishes I’d eeked these out in the interest of not running out of her work to read, but the other part really likes diving in and being imbued with the insight and amusement.
PS - not to worry. Houseguests + baby whose sleep schedule is thrown off means that while I'm still reading in ten-minute bursts, writing isn't happening nearly so reliably. Example: He was asleep when I started this post and is now...not.
The short answer here is: just about everything. I grew up in a family of readers and am an aspiring author. I'm going to aim to average a review a week here, barring unforeseen suckiness in what I'm reading. I'm also going to adopt the rule that Nick Hornby and the team at The Believer used: if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.